Product placement is one thing; building a whole movie around the glorification of a multinational corporation is something else entirely. Essentially a feature-length sponsored post, The Internship casts Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson as middle-aged salesmen who find themselves competing against braniac college kids for a job at Google. As the film incessantly reminds viewers, the company—envisioned here as a professional paradise, where the food is free, diversity is key, and cars drive themselves—is regularly voted the greatest place to work in America. Characters go further, describing it as an “engine for change,” the “Garden of Eden,” and “the best amusement park you’ve ever been to, times a million.” If this excessively flattering farce is to be believed, Googliness is next to godliness.
Occasionally, the relentless PR campaign pauses long enough for someone to make a joke or two. Look past all the Google-gushing, and The Internship operates like a run-of-the-mill campus comedy, populated almost exclusively with archetypes: the disapproving authority figure (Aasif Mandvi, quite funny in his handful of scenes), the snooty rich-kid villain (Max Minghella, still playing students seven years after Art School Confidential), and a smoking-hot professor type (Rose Byrne) who slowly succumbs to Wilson’s aww-shucks charisma. There’s also a lovable group of underdogs—the movie’s version of a misfit fraternity—who learns to cut loose, work together, and love their older, out-of-touch teammates.
Much of the supposed humor derives from the cluelessness of Vaughn and Wilson, who reference “obscure” ’80s films like Flashdance, somehow know about The Hunger Games but not Harry Potter, and say “on-the-line” instead of “online.” How do two grown men without even a passing understanding of the Internet score internships at the world’s leading web company? Basically, by telling a sob story during their interview and positioning themselves as victims of the financial collapse. After all, Google isn’t made of stone! If corporations really were people, it would be the benevolent billionaire who buys the orphanage. Or Tony Stark, glowing with gadgets but out to save the world.
As a de facto Wedding Crashers sequel, The Internship is exceptionally mild; even an impromptu strip-club visit feels SFW. Can the tameness be attributed to director Shawn Levy, tireless purveyor of bland PG-13 romps? Or did the producers not want to risk alienating the image-conscious corporation they shamelessly lionize? Either way, there’s something modestly charming about the kindler, gentler shtick the Crashers develop here. Vaughn, who’s been on “asshole autopilot” for about a decade, seems especially liberated by the chance to play a character so irrepressibly optimistic. (His relentless attempts to befriend Mandvi provide a few honest chuckles.) But then, the real star of The Internship is Google itself, and what a self-aggrandizing diva she is. In one final insult, the movie presents the company as a noble savior of small-businesses, beating back an economic depression one sponsorship sale at a time. It’s enough to make a lifelong Googler want to switch to Bing.